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Why I believe in Africa

My Man

Very little is known about you before the year 2000. It happens to be the year you joined the web design school, NairoBits. Can you tell us the key points of your life before this?

Before 2000, I was focused on sports. I was a goalkeeper, even did a short stint with the U21 National team. Unfortunately we hardly got paid, sports for me, became a little unsustainable. So I moved on to the design world and ...here we are.

How did your love for design and IT come about?

I have always been visual and curious about form and function. I appreciate most fields of design. Computers are just a tool for me. I specialise not in IT design, but in Human Centered Design. Simply put; an intersection of human behavior and how it affects design. This can be in hardware, software or other forms.

You just returned from Stockholm. Should we know what you were doing there?

I’m currently collaborating with the Swedish Institute on matters concerning the creative sector at a macro and practical levels. I was in Stockholm on a mission to see how to push the creative sectors of the respective countries forward. This, and other design related engagements.

As the head of user experience at BRCK, what exactly do you do?

My job is to make sure that we are designing products and solutions with the people we target and that what we design work for them in their contexts. This involves studying people, their aspirations, frustrations, their behavior in different contexts, their points of view and applying these insights into the design process.

What exactly is BRCK?

We are a team of designers, software developers, technologists who offer solutions to emerging markets like Africa. We offer technological innovations and design technological solutions and products for ruggedised Africa.

Steve Jobs is known for creating products that people wanted even though they didn’t know that they wanted those products yet. How do you approach your design work?

Often, constraints and frustrations are looked at from a negative perspective. I look at them as an opportunity to be innovative, opportunities for design. The approach I use centers on the user.

They might not know what they need, but they know their aspirations, frustrations and contexts better than I ever will. My process shares the cognitive load with the users, guiding them through an innovative process that takes them from looking at frustrations negatively to looking at them as opportunities to create.

You are among the few Kenyans to have ever delivered a TEDx talk. You did this in 2009, and in your talk, you looked at slum life and the slum life cycle. Do you see a future with no slums?

I think it is possible to have a future without slums. Many societies exist without slums. If we approach the challenge with integrity, creativity and resilience; it can be done.

You are part of the BRCK team. And one of the things BRCK is known for is BRCK Education which seeks to offer digital education tools for emerging markets. What part of the learning experience will tech enhance in Africa?

Imagine traveling to Korr (this is a desert in Marsabit County). These Kenyans cannot listen to the radio, let alone have cell phone reception. They are completely off the grid. Now imagine a student there. Hardly any books to read, cut off, yet they are expected to sit the same exam as a student in Nairobi.

In Africa, only 10 per cent of students have access to good education content. That is a huge gap. Technology allows us to bridge this gap.

The Kio Kit from BRCK is a good example. It is a portable, ruggedised education solution that includes 40 tablets built for rugged Africa, and a micro server which contains hundreds of rich media content. Using the Kio Kit, even a classroom in Korr is instantly transformed into a digital learning environment, giving students and teachers access to tons of rich media content. Videos, textbooks, storybooks and more.

How close are you to your past - the people you grew up with, the place you grew up in?

Unfortunately, I’ve lost a huge chunk of people I grew up with to violence and substance abuse among other challenges. There are some who are still grounded like my brothers and sisters who lead NairoBits. We get in touch from time to time.

You are an IT guy. Popular culture has it that IT guys are socially awkward. Do you worry that this is an incorrect tag, or is it actually true?

This stereotype is mostly associated with software engineers, not designers. However it isn’t always true. Being geeky, as it is called, has become quite cool, what with pop culture figures wearing geeky glasses and such. Anyway, how one interacts with the world varies from person to person.

Is there any particular person who has been a great influence in your life... how have they influenced your life?

My mom is right up there. She is an incredible human being with an immense capacity to love and inspire even in the toughest of circumstances. She is a phenomenal woman that I am thankful for every day. I most certainly wouldn’t be who I am without her as an example and inspiration.

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